I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.A. in Cognitive Systems (COGS), Cognition and Brain stream in 2011. Here are some questions that people ask me often:
Q. What is Cognitive Systems (COGS)?
A. I’m taking this from the COGS website because I can’t articulate it better:
“The Cognitive Systems Program (COGS) is a multi-disciplinary undergraduate program involving four departments: Computer Science, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Psychology … Through our study of computer science, linguistics, philosophy, and psychology, we aim to gain a comprehensive understanding of human cognition, and to apply this knowledge to create intelligent artificial systems.”
Q. What got you into COGS?
A. During my first year in university (I was in Boston University as a biology major at the time), I watched Ghost in the Shell for the first time. I was mind-blown. I grew fascinated by philosophy and the relationship between the human and the machine. At the end of my first year, I had to return to my home town (Tokyo, Japan) and stay there for two years because of a family emergency. The situation forced me into thinking about what I wanted to pursue if there ever was a chance for me to go back to university. So one day I was browsing schools and courses online and I just happened to stumble upon UBC’s COGS program. I fell in love at first sight.
Q. What did you do after graduation?
A. While I was still in school, I started volunteering at the UBC Visual Cognition Lab (VCL). I became a research assistant and lab manager there, and realized: hey, this “management” business is actually quite fun. After working at the VCL for a few years, I joined the Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics (VIVA) in the fall of 2013 and taught, developed courses, managed programs and built communities. In 2017 I joined the Regional Animal Protection Society (RAPS) originally as a data / social media person, and then my role rapidly expanded into event coordination, fundraising, marketing, and veterinary practice management. And now, I'm back in COGS as Program Coordinator :D
Q. Did COGS help you in your career?
A. Not only my career, but also for personal development. Why? COGS boosted my critical thinking and communication (both oral and written) skills. These skills are useful everywhere.
Q. What do COGS grads typically do?
A. Off the top of my head, I know alumni who went into the following fields: academic research, accounting, analytics, artificial intelligence, banking, entrepreneurship, farming, fundraising, journalism, law, marketing, management, medicine, music, outdoor education, software development, teaching, and UX design. Some people wear many hats (e.g. AI/patent law startup founder, accounting professor/startup founder/researcher/magician).
Q. I don’t know whether or not I’m fit for COGS.
A. Let me start with a metaphor: Imagine there’s a road; a highway or something that goes somewhere. You know where the destination is. Off the highway, you see a little trail that looks like it was made by wildlife. If you follow that trail, you'll end up in a dense forest. You don’t know where the destination is. You might end up at someone’s cabin. It might lead to a rocky beach. There might be a lake you can swim in. You might end up on top of a hill and find a marvelous view. Or… the trail might end in the middle of nowhere. What would you do: taking the highway to your destination or the trail that you have no idea where it will take you?
I know some people who were in the program who weren't actually fit for it because their expectations didn't match up with reality. COGS is not a program that automatically grants you success in life (although there are many successful COGS grads out there). It's about putting all the pieces together in a way that makes sense for YOU, and it's not easy because you need to do all the work!
One thing to try out to see if you might like the content discussed in COGS: check out "They're Made Out of Meat" by Terry Bisson. To me, this is the spirit of COGS. What is a cognitive system? (Turns out meat can be! ;D) If you're fascinated by this idea, you might feel like COGS is your home.
Q. What’s the difference between B.A. Cognition and Brain stream and B.Sc. Cognition and Brain stream?
A. Let me start off with similarities first: you will take all the COGS core courses (200, 300, 303, 401, 402). You will also have some degree of freedom with your module courses (off the top of my head I think it was 2 PSYC courses, 2 non-PSYC courses, and 2 any as long as it's in the module list). The difference is in the FACULTY requirements. It's actually quite different so I recommend you compare (BA brain stream vs. BSc brain stream) and see for yourself. Satisfying the program requirements is important, but so is satisfying the faculty requirements. If you forget to satisfy the faculty requirements that will stop you from graduating.
Q. What was your favorite course?
A. COGS303: Research Methods in Cognitive Systems. It was terrifying when I took it but the value I got from it triumphs the terror. I can ramble on forever, but to keep it short, COGS303 gave me two vitally important things: 1) the bullshit detector and 2) argument etiquette.
Q. What is COGS for you?
A. I’m in concordance with Eric Vatikiotis-Bateson (founding COGS Director)’s definition: “It’s what you want it to be.” Since COGS isn’t straightforward in terms of what career paths are available afterwards (because people go all over the place afterwards), it forces you to take ownership of your degree and spin it your way, instead of the other way around (imagine your degree dictating the way you live your life – that would be really sad). Tuum est.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who just joined COGS?
A. Get to know your people. Befriend them. Nerd out with them. One of the many things I love about COGS is the people: students, TAs, profs, alumni… they’re awesome. Most importantly, have fun. If you're not having tons of fun, COGS is probably not the right place for you. And that's okay because you need to find what's the best for you.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who is about to graduate from COGS?
A. If you still feel murky about where this COGS-coaster is going to take you…
I'm Candice and I doodle with the intensity of the doomguy.